Human Suffering at the World Trade Center Bombing -September 11, 2021
On September 11th, the world acknowledged the 22nd Commemoration to honor the loss of life of thousands of humans after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and also at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. At all of these sites of tragedy, memorials, and monuments have been erected to honor the lives of the deceased, as a site of memory for the families left to mourn, and for the world to remember the human cost of the tragic violence and the urgent need for peace.
Human Suffering in September – Birmingham, Alabama- September 15, 1963
On September 15th, the city of Birmingham, the 16th Street Baptist Church acknowledged the 60th year since a racially motivated terrorist attack by the Klu Klux Klan who bombed their church and left “four little girls” to die in the rubble.
Why do We Need an International Day of Peace?
“United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Peace is needed today more than ever. War and conflict are unleashing devastation, poverty, and hunger, and driving tens of millions of people from their homes. Climate chaos is all around. And even peaceful countries are gripped by gaping inequalities and political polarization.”
Many humans are suffering under the umbrella of structural violence and actively fighting against oppressive, racist, homophobic, sexist, misogynist, classist, and religiously intolerant systems and regimes. Human rights are being violated and for many, peace feels like as author Langston Hughes would call it a “dream deferred.” Many would agree with Secretary Guterres that “…Peace is needed today…” and many more would argue that looking back through the historical record, peace has been needed for quite some time now.
Violence in Numbers
Beyond the devastation of the loss of life, according to National Today, since 2015 there has been $13.6 trillion dollars spent related to violence in 2015, 9,800 terrorism websites containing violent material, 11% of ceasefire agreements between 2015 and 2019, which included gender provisions, 15.9 million – the estimated number of people in Yemen’s population hit by the world’s worst food crisis, 135 million – the number of people in 2019 living with acute hunger, 60% of people struck with acute hunger living in conflict countries, 88 countries that had national action plans on women, peace, and security by October 2020, 417 policy measures enacted by national governments in response to the COVID-19 crisis and 408 million youth living in areas of armed conflict in 2016.
2023 Theme-“Actions for Peace: Our Ambition for the #GlobalGoals”
This year’s theme highlights our individual and collective responsibility to ensure that peace is maintained. This call to action works to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and through attaining these goals, it is believed that peace will be acquired by all. To learn more about the SDG’s, watch this video: Do you know all 17 SDGs? – YouTube
IHR Pictured with IPC Founders, Will and Carolyn Ratcliff, Rotary Club Members, Past and current UAB Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights with Graduate Director, Dr. Peter Verbeek, IHR staff and interns, and Dr. Rev. Bernice King. To learn more about IPC 2023, click here.
75th Year of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights & the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide
In the words of Congressman John Lewis, “Not one of us can rest, be happy, be at home, be at peace with ourselves until we end hatred and division.” Let us work to end the division and hatred, work towards peace and pave a new way forward together.
For more information about the International Day of Peace, you can visit here.
On October 21st, the thunderous crack of tear gas grenades echoed throughout the streets of Chad as palls of black smoke billowed into the horizon. The security forces in Chad’s two largest cities,Moundou and N’Djamena,indiscriminately opened fire onto an anti-government protest. About 50 people were killed and nearly 300 injured in violence that broke out in response to the delaying of the country’s transition towards civilian rule. Hundreds of protestors took to the streets to demand a quicker transition to democratic rule.They were met with internal law enforcementusing tear gas and firing live ammunition to disperse the protest. Protesters threw stones;some unverified photos showed a fewindividuals with knives, but no evidencewas found to indicate that protesters carried guns.It began with demonstrators advancing despite policereleasing tear gas. However, once the police opened fire, demonstrators were forced to flee, with some helping to carry away the injured and dead. Saleh Kebzabo, the prime minister, announced the death toll at a news conference, explaining that the security forces acted in self-defense.
Chad’s political background
In April 2021, President Idriss Deby died after three decades of iron-fisted rule, sparking a period of political turmoil in the vast, military-run Central African nation of Chad.Mahamat Idriss Deby, his son, seized power shortly after the coup and promised that elections would take place after an18–month transitional period. However, on October 1st, he postponed the democratic elections by 2 years.October 21st would have marked the end of the initially agreed 18-month transition period,which is why oppositional groups decided to hold the protest that day. The military junta serves to incite the underlying political challenges facing Chad. With a rise in extremist violence and deep social problems, Chad hasrecently seen a series of coups d’états.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) condemns the repression of demonstrations that led to deaths in Chad.Ms. Shamdasani, spokesperson for OHCHR stated that“Defense and security forces must refrain from the use of force against peaceful protesters and ensure that force is not used unless strictly necessary and, if so, in full compliance with the principles of legality, precaution, and proportionality.” Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, concurs, “People should be able to peacefully protest government policy without being shot at or killed.”The International Federation for HumanRights(FIDH) and its Chadian organizations, the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH) have called for an immediate end to the violent repression of the demonstrations taking place in N’Djamena, Sarh, Doba, Koumra, Abeche and Moundou by the defense and security forces. No longer can the impunity enjoyed by the Chadian transitional regime endure.
Human Rights Violations
What is going in Chad is a violation of human rights that threatens all of us.The preservation of human rights is imperative since these rights protect vulnerable groups as well ashelp fight against unjust cultural and religious practices that infringe on the rights of individual citizens. As a society that treasures the sanctity of human rights, we havea duty to be watch–dogs that safeguard these rights so that all rights, including ours, are protected. Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rightsguarantees everyone the right to free speech. Violence against unarmed protesters is not tolerable. Access to the democratic election process is the cornerstone of modern state governance. By deciding who governs, elections give citizens a voice in their government in the most fundamental way. Protecting voter rights preserves the integrity of the election, and therefore legitimizes government. A government without legitimacy is a failed state that cannot accomplish anything.Chad has a responsibility to its citizensto protect and respecttheir rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of opinion. Although conflict has been a regular feature since the country’sindependence, these protests are the culmination of the current mixture of internal volatility and factionalism.Anyone who lives in the free world and values their liberty should be concerned for their own rights.It is important for Chad’s international partners to support civil society so that they can reduce violence risks and promote human rights.The deadly aftermath should serve as a harrowing reminder that our own human rights are in jeopardy if this situation is not remedied.
You look around at the passing people, from old women and working mothers to teachers and police, any of them could want you dead. This is the unfortunate reality facing many LGBTQ+ people in Brazil, the world’s most dangerous country for trans and Queer people. With a stark rise in conservatism driving discriminatory legislation and a president that has publicly vilified “gender ideology” and Queer persons, the rights of LGBTQ+ people are threatened by institutions and public support of hateful rhetoric and discriminatory laws.
The political climate fostering LGBTQ+ hate
The current president of Brazil is Jair Bolsonaro, who began his term on January 1, 2019. Bolsonaro is seen as a polarizing figure both within Brazil and by the international community for his disparaging comments against women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals. A far-right figure, Bolsonaro claimed in a 2011 interview with Play Boy that he would rather have a dead son than a gay one.
After the election of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s second openly gay congress member Jean Wyllys left their position and fled the country due to the increased level of violence against LGBTQ+ people and the number of death threats received. “It was not Bolsonaro’s election itself. It was the level of violence that has increased since he was elected,” Wyllys told local newspapers. Bolsonaro has been clear about how his convictions motivate his discriminatory rhetoric that disparages LGBTQ+ people, and his election and widespread public support have also translated to widespread violence.
Bolsonaro represents a rise in conservatism further supported by a significant growth in Evangelism in Brazil over the last decade. Despite being the world’s largest Catholic country, Evangelical churches have been increasing, and now approximately one-third of Brazil’s population is Evangelical. John Otis, a reporter for the National Public Radio, found that “Evangelicals now make up 31% of Brazil’s population, according to the Datafolha polling firm. They’re still outnumbered by Catholics, who make up 51%. But evangelicals are growing at a much faster clip. They’re also more politically active than Catholics.”
Evangelism is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations that emphasize the Bible as the ultimate source of morality and history and a desire to evangelize, or spread their faith. Evangelicals tend to be more conservative and opposed to more progressive values. The concern between the rise in evangelism and subsequent conservatism in Brazil is that these joint forces signal an erosion of secularism and democracy in Brazil.
On his inauguration day, Bolsonaro said, “We will unite people, value the family, respect religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combat gender ideology and rescue our values.” On December 1, 2021, the Brazilian senate approved the appointment of Evangelical lawyer and pastor André Mendonça to a position on the Supreme Court. This is a signal of the key role evangelists play in the political climate of Brazil today with positions on the highest court in the nation and executive office.
Foremost, sexuality and gender identities are a focus of discriminatory laws and practices in a lot of states, but trans and Queer people are also the victims of torture, violence, and death.
The violence and deaths of LGBTQ+ individuals are in direct contradiction with the right to life and safety guaranteed to all people. Additionally, LGBTQ+ people face more barriers to healthcare access, and discrimination is conflated by additional minority identities such as being a person of color. Trans persons are particularly vulnerable to exposure to violence due to name and sex details in official documents.
As a result of the violence, LGBTQ+ people have been responding by taking defense and martial arts classes. In large cities such as Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, and Rio, defense courses are being offered to Queer people who increasingly doubt Brazil’s institutions will protect them. Carlos Renan dos Santos Evaldt, a banker and president of a gay sports club in Porto Alegre, was spurred to offer jujitsu classes not just to ensure personal safety, but “rights achieved through hard work and at the cost of many lives and years.”
Since 2014, there has been a growing passage of legislation, approximately 200 bills, at all levels targeting “indoctrination” and “gender ideology.” Bolsonaro’s Minister of Women, Family, and Human Rights, Damares Alves, an evangelical pastor said on her first day, “Girls will be princesses, and boys will be princes. There will be no more ideological indoctrination of children and teenagers in Brazil.”
In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution affirming LGBTQ+ rights as human rights due to the discrimination and violence levied against this minority community. Alves’ promotion of anti-LGBTQ+ speech disparages the identities of all people, and moreover, signals a failure from the ministry with an objective in human rights to combat rhetoric against Queer persons. Brazil is a current member of the Human Rights Council and therefore has an obligation to promote human rights for all.
Brazil requires comprehensive sexuality education (CSE); however, attempts to reduce or eliminate teaching about gender and sexual orientation represent a threat to the right to education, information, and health. These bills represent a process of silencing rather than honoring the diversity of individuals.
Successes in face of growing anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments
While there is still a long way to go in addressing the human rights violations trans and Queer people face in Brazil, there have been successes in the face of growing hate and violence. As previously mentioned, trans people face additional threats due to names and assigned sex at birth listed on official documents. In 2018, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that the government could no longer require individuals seeking a name or gender identifier change on official documents to undergo medical procedures or judicial review. Previously, transgender people had to undergo mandatory psychiatric evaluations, medical transitions, or obtain a judicial order. This represents a major step to ensuring the safety and validating the identity of all people. This is a confirmation of the right of a person to self-determination and a denial of any government to decide for a person who they are.
In June 2019, the Supreme Court furthered its protection of LGBTQ+ people by criminalizing homophobia and transphobia. Under the law, homophobia and transphobia would be treated the same way as racism. In May 2020, the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on blood donations from men who had sexual relations with men.
Also, in 2020, the Supreme Court struck down a number of bills that aimed to censor “gender ideology” and sexuality in CSE programs. These cases established that municipalities could not override national education plans, and in these specific cases, changes represented a violation of the right to equality and education. And in April 2022, the Supreme Court affirmed that the “Maria da Penha” law against domestic violence applied to transgender women.
In spite of political attempts to limit or deny the rights of LGBTQ+ people, there are institutions that still protect these human rights. As of this October, Brazil will hold its presidential election between incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is leading in the polls. As Brazilians celebrated Pride month this year with the first in-person parade in two years they did so under the slogan “vote with pride, for policies that represent us.”
The Human Rights Campaign has partnered with Instituto de Políticas Públicas LGBT and Instituto Mais Diversidade in order to promote and develop more inclusive LGBTQ+ employment practices in Brazil and Argentina. By creating more accepting workplaces for Queer people, more inclusion can be fostered across all aspects of life in Brazil.
To get involved, you can support the Human Rights Campaign by donating so these programs can continue to combat discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Also, by creating dialogues in your own workplaces on LGBTQ+ inclusion, human rights in corporations will continue to be a standard of practice ensuring equality and equity on all levels, local to international.
“I used to be chained around the waist and one ankle. My waist used to hurt because the chain was so heavy. My leg used to hurt, I would scratch it and cry. I felt relieved when the chain was removed.”
An estimated 792 million people globally – that is 1 in 10 people, including 1 in 5 children – have a mental health condition. Despite this irrefutable fact, governments spend less than two percent of their health budgets on mental health. The absence of proper mental health support and knowledge of how to cope with a mental health condition has lead to thousands of people being shackled in inhumane conditions.
“People in the neighborhood say that I’m mad [maluca or n’lhanyi]. I was taken to a traditional healing center where they cut my wrists to introduce medicine and another one where a witch doctor made me take baths with chicken blood.”
—Fiera, 42, woman with a psychosocial disability, Maputo, Mozambique, November 2019
This brutal practice is an open secret in many communities, according to Kriti Sharma, the senior disability rights researcher at the Human Rights Watch. Sharma and her team compiled a 56-page report titled “Living in Chains: Shackling People with Psychological Disabilities Worldwide,” shedding light on the conditions in which people with mental disabilities are bound by families in their own homes or in overcrowded and unsanitary institutions against their will. This is due to the widespread stigma and taboo of mental health issues within governments and health institutions in several countries. In state-run, private, traditional, and religious institutional “healing centers,” people with mental health conditions are often forced to fast, take medications or herbal concoctions, and face physical and sexual violence.
The Human Rights Watch’s study of 110 countries unveiled evidence of shackling people with mental health conditions across age groups, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic levels, and urban and rural areas in about 60 countries. Countries that indulge in these types of practices include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Palestine, Yemen, and several more.
Though a number of countries have started to acknowledge mental health as a real problem, the inhumane act of shackling remains largely out of sight. There is no data or coordinated effort at either international or regional level to eradicate the binding of people who are mentally ill. The act of shackling impacts both the mental and physical health of someone who is already ill. Some effects include post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, infections, nerve damage, and cardiovascular problems, not to mention the loss of dignity. The #BreakTheChains Movement is an organization devoted to bringing awareness of shackling to nations and increasing access and awareness of mental health services in countries where shackling is a common problem. The movement has been successful in Indonesia where its country-wide interviews and advocacy led the government of Indonesia to deepen its commitment to #BreakTheChains. Over 48 million households in Indonesia now have access to community-based mental health services.
Laymen can also assist the movement by following two easy steps: sign the pledge, and share the movement on social media to promote awareness. It is time to acknowledge that mental health is a real issue that affects millions of people, and shackling and ignoring the issue will not resolve any issues, nor will it reduce the stigma associated with mental health. If we, as global citizens, have learned anything from this pandemic, it is how deathly and dangerous the invisibility of a disease is. Mental health is invisible like COVID-19, but there are always symptoms. Make an effort to educate yourself, and take the opportunity to check in on people by simply asking how someone has been. It really is that simple.
Some people believe that PTSD is only a mental health condition that affects those who have come back from war, but this isn’t the case. People who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder aren’t just veterans. Individuals with PTSD have experienced severe trauma. It’s not only people that come back from combat, but that’s how many of us associate the disorder. PTSD can happen to anybody who experiences trauma such as a sexual assault, a natural disaster, or many things that would prompt someone to have a traumatic reaction, so let’s stop talking about PTSD as though it’s something that only war veterans experience. Anyone who has been through a traumatic experience can develop PTSD. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population. That works out to eight million American people living with the condition. Approximately 37% of people diagnosed with PTSD display serious symptoms. Women have higher rates than men. Later in this article, we’ll discuss the gender divide.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome happens after a person experiences trauma, and it’s something that sticks with a person. Symptoms can include flashbacks, night sweats, insomnia, panic attacks, and isolating from friends and family. We need to understand that people with PTSD aren’t dramatic; they’re traumatized. When you experience trauma first-hand it changes your brain. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health, Several areas of the brain are involved when a person experiences PTSD. A stress response includes the amygdala, hippocampus, as well as the prefrontal cortex. PTSD and trauma can cause lasting changes in those areas of the brain.
What causes PTSD?
The cause of PTSD is that a person experiences trauma and never adequately deals with the issues because it sticks with them. People think that PTSD is caused by being in combat because combat can be a traumatic experience, especially if you see someone die in front of you. The cause of PTSD is when an individual has difficulty adjusting after a traumatic event; their brain changes and the memory of the traumatic event gets stuck in their brain. These intrusive memories make it difficult for an individual to function. The root cause of PTSD is a traumatic event, but the symptoms are what overwhelm people to the point where it’s diagnosable. People with PTSD often have recurring distressing and upsetting memories of the trauma, and when you continually have upsetting memories and can’t stop them, it makes you want to shut down, which is a problem that many people face when living with PTSD, and it can seriously impact your relationships.
Causes of PTSD
A stressful experience
Predisposition to mental illness or family history of mental illness
Risk factors for PTSD:
Long lasting trauma
Childhood sexual abuse
Other childhood trauma
A job where you’re exposed to trauma such as a military position
If you don’t have a sound support system
Seeing someone get hurt
A history of substance abuse
Types of trauma
When we think of PTSD, we might think of combat, but it’s not just that. Anyone who has experienced trauma is at risk of developing PTSD. Whether you witnessed a violent act or you were physically attacked yourself, you’re at risk for PTSD. In addition to combat, types of trauma that can induce PTSD include but aren’t limited to:
Childhood sexual abuse
Other childhood trauma
Sexual assault or violence
Being attacked with a weapon
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD can range from mood symptoms to physical symptoms. These symptoms can include but aren’t limited to nightmares, irritability, being easily startled or frightened, trouble sleeping or concentrating, or even feeling completely emotionally numb. These symptoms occur after a traumatic event and are only some of the possible signs that an individual could experience. Everyone reacts to trauma differently. And it’s understandable that someone may shut down, lash out, or break down crying. These are all responses that could happen.
How intense are your symptoms?
Depending on the person, the intensity and type of PTSD symptoms will differ. If you have suicidal thoughts or ideation, it’s incredibly crucial to reach out to a friend, loved one, or to contact the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK in the United States.) It’s essential that you talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing difficulty functioning.
Complications of PTSD
PTSD can impair someone’s function to the point where they’re unable to engage in normal life activities. Someone might develop substance abuse issues, an eating disorder, or other comorbid mental health conditions. PTSD can be debilitating. It can lead people into a state where they can’t work. It can make it so that they’re unable to attend social functions, and it can severely impact a person’s life. If you’re diagnosed with PTSD, you need to have the following symptoms:
One avoidance symptom – Avoidance is where you’ll stay away from things that remind you of the trauma. Avoidance symptoms include avoiding places and situations that remind you of the trauma, and avoiding thinking about upsetting thoughts connected to the event
At least two arousal symptoms– Arousal symptoms of PTSD make a person extremely anxious. Arousal symptoms include:
Getting startled easily
Having problems sleeping
At least two cognition/mood symptoms – Cognitive symptoms of PTSD can rob people of things they once enjoyed. Cognitive symptoms include difficulty remembering the trauma, distorted emotions including guilt, and loss of interest things you once enjoyed
One re-experiencing symptom – Re-experiencing a key marker of PTSD, and it sounds exactly like what it is; re-experiencing. Re-experiencing symptoms include flashbacks or reliving the trauma, nightmares, or scary thoughts.
Children vs. Adults With PTSD
Children can have different responses to trauma in comparison to adults. They might wet the bed or have selective mutism, they might start acting out during play time, or they might begin experiencing separation anxiety. According to the National PTSD center, seven or eight out of every 100 people experience PTSD at some point during their life. Not every person who has PTSD has been through a dangerous incident; some people experience it after a loved one has suffered harm.
According to The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs Studies, approximately 15% to 43% of girls and 14% to 43% of boys experience significant trauma. Of the children and teens that experience trauma, 3% to 15% of girls and 1% to 6% of boys go on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
We can see that females seem to develop PTSD more than men do. What is the reason for this? Many women are survivors are sexual assault, try to speak up and aren’t believed. According to the National Sexual Assault Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at any given point during their lives. Yet, we as a society do not believe survivors as we should. We need to start believing women when they come forward. When we do they can get treated for what happened to them appropriately.
Why do some people get PTSD and others don’t?
You may be wondering why some people develop PTSD while others do not. Part of it has to do with having the risk factors listed above, but there’s nothing wrong with you if you have PTSD and someone else in the same situation did not. There are other disorders that can go along with PTSD. An individual with PTSD can have additional mental health conditions. They may also struggle with suicidal ideation and may attempt to take their life. Here are some mental health conditions that people with PTSD also manage:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
How to prevent PTSD
PTSD isn’t necessarily preventable because you can’t control when trauma happens, but you can deal with the trauma after it happens. After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s vital to seek mental health treatment in the form of therapy and, if you need to, a psychiatrist. You can reach out to people in your network and find someone to treat your symptoms. Whether you see someone online or in your local area, PTSD is treatable and even preventable if you address trauma right away. If you develop PTSD, it’s okay, and there’s no need to feel shame. It’s a treatable mental illness, and you’re not alone. Many people live with PTSD, and with support, you will get through this. It starts with getting help from a mental health professional, whether that’s working with someone in your local area or finding the help of an online counselor, like one at BetterHelp, you can find a treatment plan and get the help that you need to health from PTSD. You’re not alone, and remember that millions of Americans live with the condition. By going to therapy, you’re doing something incredibly brave, which is taking charge of your mental health. You will get better, but it’s going to take time. Be patient with yourself. Healing from trauma can be difficult, but it’s worth it.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.
Two of my cousins sexually abused me while I was between the ages of seven and nine. Once during an assault, their father (my uncle) walked in, watched what was happening, quietly closed the door, and walked away. I have forgiven them all.
I believe recounting details of my abuse (whether to myself or to you, the reader) only serves two productive purposes. First, it demonstrates my personal connection to trauma, resilience, and survivorship. Survivors have a unique vision into the cultural narrative surrounding sexual violence, and any narrative without our explicit input is incomplete at best and patronizing at worst. Second, recounting these details provides comradery and empowerment to other survivors. The second point is important for several reasons.
Survivors often feel alone. Survivors often feel disempowered. Survivors often feel unheard and unbelieved.
For these reasons and more, many survivors, and I would argue most survivors, do not report their experience of violence. I am using this blog post to explain #WhyIDidntReport, and why others feel unable to as well.
You Never Go Back to Who You Were
I use the analogy of a watercolor painting to explain the sensation of a life disassembled, disjointed, and displaced from trauma. Imagine that you try to recall a particular scene from your life. The general forms are there, colored with vaguely familiar hues and shades, and you sense what the scene depicts as a whole. But you never get the sharp edges and the clearly demarcated lines. This is what it is like for me when I attempt to paint my childhood.
My watercolor painting has always been a glorious meeting of sun, sky, and sea – dark, deep, and turbulent waters underneath. My watercolor painting is the ocean under the setting sun.
In my experience, “a life disassembled, disjointed, and displaced” means losing time in two major ways: Losing memory and losing relationships. The question of memory, in particular, is an issue that plays out in courtrooms over and over again when allegations of sexual assault are leveled by a survivor. In my experience, it is entirely possible (and probable, given the trauma and humiliation inherent to any form of sexual violence) to recall with crystal clarity some details of your attack while at the time having no recollection of other details. Certain details will raise to the surface, such as the music that was playing in the earphones pressed against my ears, the glint of my cousin’s braces, the brown eyes of my uncle, the smell of biscuits in the oven, the taste of adrenaline. Others remain buried on the ocean floor.
The memory of the abuse came flooding back into my consciousness during my first year of college, and at that moment, I realized just how much of my life I had lost. I was walking home from a party with a close friend at the time, and I kept sensing an Old Enemy. I couldn’t quite tell what this Enemy was – as I kept walking, chatting with my friend, I felt tears in my eyes. I stopped walking and tears poured. I remember sitting down on the sidewalk with my friend, and very suddenly, with no prompting, admitting to my friend “I was sexually abused by my cousins”. This was the first time I ever shared my experience with another. To this day, I have no indication why the floodgates opened at that moment in particular.
Over the course of four and a half years, I worked painstakingly to make sense of my childhood, to reinsert control over my life and my choices, and to sublimate my experience to better empathize with and transform others with similar experience. I went to my alma mater’s counseling center, committed to integrating my trauma into my present self. I joined a student coalition advocating for sexual assault survivors, banding with other student survivors like myself. I interned at a nonprofit aiding survivors, finding my life’s calling in post-traumatic transformation.
Every Fall semester at my alma mater, both advocacy organizations I was involved with co-host a Shadow Event, where student survivors of sexual assault share publicly their stories to classmates, faculty, staff, and the local Newport News community. The survivors are blocked from public view by a veil; all the audience can perceive is the survivor’s silhouette on stage and her or his voice over the speakers. Survivors become storytellers, and in 2014, I became a storyteller. Each of us had the opportunity to air grievance, to speak truth to power, and (most importantly) to heal in our shared spirit of survivorship and transformation. I keep my testimony that I read the Shadow Event close. Sometimes I’ll read back through it, reliving the power of what it means to stand in front of an audience of my closest friends, coworkers, mentors, professors, and fellow survivors.
This power resides in our very core: It is the power from speaking our Truth to both an audience and, most importantly, to ourselves.
And even now, there is much work to be done, many relationships to repair. For several years after surviving the abuse, I obsessively held my Secret as close as possible, diving as deep inside myself as I could to avoid close personal connections. Many times, I seethed at the abject injustice of it all. I displaced my hurt on people I love, and there are indeed amends to be made for those dark moments. All the while, I could only remember flashes of childhood experiences: The t-ball team, playing with my sister in our neighborhood, voraciously reading Harry Potter, learning about oceanography in 4thgrade and knowing what it was like to have an ocean inside your mind. To this day, even after all the soul- and mind-work, the unifying thread of my childhood narrative is lost to me. I am fine with that. If I am certain of one thing, it is this:
When it comes to surviving trauma, you never go back to who you were.
When an individual is traumatized at the hand of another, all meaning in the survivor’s world is shattered. You stop believing in many things – most notably, you stop believing in yourself, often repeating unholy mantras:
‘I asked for it.’
‘I could have stopped it, but I didn’t.’
And the worst, ‘I deserved it.’
Ideas of self-concept are twisted and reformed by dark imaginings, by fixations on memories of the traumatic event, and by questions such as ‘how could anyone do this to me?’ Many of us stop believing we are worth the discomfort felt by another when we tell them our story – we clutch our stories tight because we will, inevitably, end up on the receiving end of pitying looks and on the receiving end of heavy (and also very awkward) silences. The final tragic reality is that many survivors, especially women survivors, are simply not believed when they recount their abuse. When they share their testimony, they are met with suspicion and outright hostility.
Take, for example, the situation playing out between Ford and Kavanaugh. Last week, Dr. Christine B. Ford recounted her story of sexual assault at the hands of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Dr. Ford’s testimony and the tenacity of other survivors of sexual assault convinced enough members of the Judiciary Committee to commit to an FBI investigation regarding any potential incidents of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.
As both a survivor of sexual assault and as a human rights researcher committed to national and international standards related to due process, the Ford-Kavanaugh situation has been a nightmare. Many on the right believe Dr. Ford & her story serve solely as political pawns, used and abused by the Democratic Party. Many on the left believe Kavanaugh is a de facto rapist, aided and abetted by a Republican Party fully cognizant of Kavanaugh’s crimes. I cannot speak to what happened between Ford and Kavanaugh, so I will not indulge in speculation. Here’s what I can speak to:
99.4% rapists will never see a jail cell, 94.3% will never be arrested, and 69% will never have their violence reported to police.
Arguments have also been made that the men should fear being falsely accused of sexual violence (this says nothing of female perpetrators, such as one of my abusers). Intentional false allegations do indeed comprise 2 – 7% of cases brought to law enforcement. Compare that statistic with the others I listed prior.
It is very apparent to me, and to many other survivors as well, both the American judiciary and culture-at-large have failed their collective tasks of acknowledging, prosecuting, and preventing this form of violence. I also look to the vitriol Dr. Ford and her family are experiencing as evidence of these failures – failures completely visibly across the entire American political drama, irrespective of Kavanaugh’s guilt or innocence. I have wondered (for many years now, not just within the present circumstance) what structural barriers maintain this status quo, discouraging survivors from speaking out, inspiring savagery against survivors. Here are some of my theories:
Cultural taboos against speaking openly about acts of sexual deviance pressure survivors to remain silent about their story.
The perceived power status of the accused party intimidates survivors from sharing their stories.
If believing a survivor means disrupting the conventional order, order usually prevails.
These three factors (taboo, power, and order) have discrete mechanisms to suppress survivors and to shield the accused, including:
For fellow survivors reading this post, know that there are many mental health services you can utilize (for other guy survivors like me, visit 1in6 and consider reading my friend’s story about why he didn’t report). As the Ford-Kavanaugh story gains more traction, many of us will be threatened by feelings of being re-traumatized. Here’s one website that can help (a special thank you to my colleague in UAB Public Health for her empathy and for this resource!). Dr. Ford’s testimony is a reminder for us to always show courage, to speak truth to power, and to wear your mantle of survivorship with pride. Know that you are never alone. And know that I believe you.
I’ll leave you all with the words of Dr. Judith Herman, psychiatrist and author of Trauma and Recovery:
“Those who stand with the victim will inevitably have to face the perpetrator’s unmasked fury. For many of us, there can be no greater honor.”
February is Black History Month. This blog series seeks to challenge the narrative of Black criminality, inferiority, and violence by presenting a counter-narrative that explores the ethic of nonviolence as a method for the acknowledgment of existence, rejection of exodus, and expression of identity for Blacks.
Nonviolence is a demonstration of Black identity. It is an identity, which under the weight of oppression, falls silent while waiting for the proper moment for a revolutionary uprising. Nonviolence is a philosophy that emerges from a personal ethic–an ethic cemented in the tactical decision not to resort to violence. For Mahatma Gandhi during the Salt March and India’s quest for independence from Britain, and Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, in conjunction with Freedom Rides and sit-ins, a nonviolent ethic which spawned movements, revolutionizing the people and nations where they took place. The validation of brute force occurs when police meet with a perceived or actual violent response.
“…Anyone in his right mind knows that this will not happen in the United States. In a violent racial situation, the power structure has the local police, the state troopers, the national guard, and finally the army to call on, all of which are predominately white… Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It leaves society in a monologue rather than a dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”
However, when nonviolence is the position of choice, the revelation of brutality and personification of the law is unjust and excessive.
In his book, Why We Can’t Wait, King describes why 1963 proved the perfect timing for nonviolent revolution in pursuit of the freedoms and rights awarded by the Constitution. He points to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 guaranteeing Americans of African descent were entitled to receive the same rights as Americans of European descent as citizens of this country. Rights garnered to them as creations of God, who made all men equal, yet the law and the nature of exacting justice on behalf of Blacks continued to fail 100 years later. The struggle of Black Americans under the burden of denial that rendered a deafening and paralyzing silence had finally become too heavy. The process of attaining acknowledgment as an individual and as a race would come only as a means of constructing an unanticipated identity: nonviolent.
Mark Kurlansky claims although there is no exact word defining nonviolence, its existence is evident throughout history:
“Nonviolence is not the same thing as pacifism…. Pacifism is treated almost as a psychological condition. It is a state of mind. Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus Christ said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence. Nonviolence, exactly like violence, is a means of persuasion, a technique for political activism, a recipe for prevailing. It requires a great deal more imagination to devise nonviolent means…while there is often a moral argument for nonviolence, the core of the belief is political: that nonviolence is more effective than violence, that violence does not work” (6).
Many whites, whether European or American, consistently viewed Blacks as inferior. The arrival of Anglo-Saxons and other Europeans on the shores of Africa, island nations, and America speak to the savagery of conquest and the brutality inflicted upon the colonized by the colonizer. To the colonizer, the colonized would become identifiable in terms of animals: savage and barbarian. Classification and ranking based upon physicality and skin tone defined the interactions of the colonized with the colonizer. The terms of existence, foundation, and implementation for the “other” assumed classification.
White superiority is the product of the social construction of race. The “globality”, a term coined by Charles Mills, of white superiority manifests in cultural racism and cultural theft. For du Bois, the overarching reach of white supremacy is fourfold:
It oppresses. The tentacles of white supremacy affect everything: “history”, interpersonal relationships, politics, justice, and economics—creating systematic and systemic oppression.
It symbolizes the gain achieved due to the exploitation of nonwhites, more specifically blacks.
It hinges on false ideals and narratives of black inferiority. The underlying and overarching theme of Black inferiority remains the domestic narrative (in the US). This mischaracterization cultivates a culture wherein Whites exists in an environment perpetuated by rumors, innuendos, accusations, and fear. The replication of this “self-fulfilling prophecy” of black criminality inevitably demands for whites to see Blacks as a criminal at every turn.
White supremacy consumes every civic and social contribution made by nonwhites, namely blacks, as a method of continually undermining the cultural and social identity, as well as expunge the existence.
In “The Negro Revolution—Why 1963?”, King asserts the Negro Revolution generated quietly as a response of more than “three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation”. European culture, history, and religion served as qualifiers in the distorted assertion that white and European descendants are civilized while nonwhites are ‘wild’ and ‘savage’; setting the stage for colonization and imperialism as precursors to slavery, racism, and white superiority. Colonizers portrayed the colonized as societies without and impervious to values. “He is, dare we say it, the enemy of values. In other worlds, absolute evil”. The notion of values for the colonized were lost on the colonizers, who customized their abuses and depravity like a trademark. The reduction of Blacks to “zoological terms” dehumanized the colonized; however, the colonized knew they were not animals, and upon the remembrance of their humanity, began to “sharpen their weapons to secure its victory”. Slavery and its dehumanizing conditions shaped the culture of Black resistance and a social identity embracing nonviolence.
Charles Henry (1981) insists changes in values spark revolutions, while Stephen Reicher (2004) argues human social action understood within the context of social interaction, is bound to the parameters of the mind and its processes. Violent revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown dotted the Southern landscape of cotton fields but remain the exception rather than the rule. There is a temptation to classify almost every slave rebellion as violent or aggressive; yet, whether feigning sickness, breaking tools, learning to read in secret, or running away, nonviolent direct action was the weapon of choice for the enslaved person demanding freedom through acknowledgment.
Nonviolent direct action has been a method of resistance for Blacks for centuries, from cotton fields to Harlem and the Great Migration; 1963 was simply the moment when the resistance could no longer remain invisible to the world. For Reicher, the definition of Self is complicated by personal identity as a lone individual and by social identity as a member of a group. To shift from interpersonal behavior to intergroup behavior, an understanding of the seamless nature of the internal “pivot between the individual and the social” is necessary. Social identity requires social context for understanding, and social context has redefined the individual in social terms. Social identity addresses the ideological and structural features of the social world; any attempt to view a portion of whole apart from the whole will distort the perception of both the part and the process.
King questions the reasons for the consistent misery plaguing the Negro and responds “a submerged social group” will create an uprising because they are propelled by justice, lifted with swiftness, moved by determination, and unafraid of risk or scorn. They are a collective; no longer in isolation, aware they are stronger together than apart. He advocates for and presents a meta-analysis framework necessary for understanding individual social identity and behavior in conjunction with identity and behavior of the collective by introducing the concept of behavioral flexibility. Behavioral flexibility becomes identifiable in the cultural changes illuminated by segmentation and categorization through which humanity ascribes meaning, assigns assessment, and determines interaction with another. In short, behavioral flexibility is the basis of culture creation. This creation takes place at both the individual and collective levels.
Rabaka believes culture is the coalescence of collective thoughts and practices, yielding belief and values systems created for the development, enhancement, and sustenance of a people who share a past, present, and future. The goal of culture is to expand and contract through the engagement of individuals, seeking to make sense of the world as a means of altering it for the betterment of self and others. Culture, though created through flexible behavior, is rigid when utilized as a constraint for some. Constraint assumes an understanding about a misapplied identity. Flexible behavior can prove detrimental to a cultural system because human uniqueness provides for the creation of worlds, rather than simple adaption to worlds. It is here the will to counter the “culture of domination” materializes.
Black leaders employed various perspectives and strategies for dealing with the injustice of racism in America. Each differed from the nonviolent direct action of King. For Booker T. Washington, a leader during the Reconstruction Era and the rise of Jim Crow, Blacks simply needed to remain subservient to the degradation because eventually hard work will help us “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”. W.E.B du Bois asserted the advancement of a few Blacks, “the talented tenth”, would carry the rest. Separation and journey back to Africa stood firm as the solution for Marcus Garvey, while for Malcolm X, internal separation, through force if necessary, would counter the need for equality with and dependence upon whites. King reminds us that the “elusive path to freedom…for a twice-burdened people” requires the presentation of their bodies–rather than fleeing or cowering under the disappointment—as freedom from the oppressor is “never voluntarily given”, it is demanded.
White supremacy is not only a global and social issue but also a political and personal one. The discourse surrounding white supremacy can no longer remain reduced to exposing racism. It must include the denial of human rights, specifically the deprivation of identity, the poverty of culture, and the theft of ideas. Additionally, the critical notion that white supremacy is a culture of structural and physical violence must become a part of this dialogue. An undoing of structural violence should become the mandate of all races, including whites. Those in power have a responsibility to collaborate with those who are not to dismantle structural violence. The creation of a new global culture is crucial to this process – one including an unwavering commitment to and enshrinement of nonviolent tactics to subvert the hegemony of power in the face of systemic injustice.
These three words “NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED” by Mitch McConnell, meant as a means of expressing his authority over Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor last month, have been co-opted by women around the world as a rallying cry and a reminder that women’s rights are human rights. The phrase uttered to news outlets, regarding Warren’s defiance as she read a letter from Coretta Scott King about the US Attorney General appointment of Jeff Sessions. As Warren read, she was interrupted, forced to stand down and remain silent for the duration of the session. Unshaken, Warren utilized another room and modern technology to continue the statement. The male Democrat Senators proceeded to read the entire letter on the Senate floor, without interruption. This scene symbolizes, in various ways around the world, the blatant and subtle, dismissive and disrespectful interaction of some men towards women.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD originated as a nod to the women in the 1909 New York City factory workers strike. A 1910 international meeting in Copenhagen established the annual recognition of female advancement in human rights, including voting rights, though there was no date for the observance; in 1975, the United Nations settled on March 8. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres explains that the protection of women and girls comes to fruition through empowerment, reducing the gender inequality that leads to discrimination, and bolstering socially and economically weak communities and societies. “Women’s legal rights, which have never been equal to men’s on any continent, are being eroded further.” Gender equality, one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, is an essential component in the plan “agreed by leaders of all countries” as they work in partnership to ensure the inclusion of all.
Women have been fighting against an imbalanced relationship between the sexes for centuries. Sherry Ortner believes “the universality of female subordination, the fact that it exists within every type of social and economic arrangement and in societies of every degree of complexity…something we cannot rout out simply by rearranging a few tasks and roles in the social system…The underlying logic of cultural thinking assumes the inferiority of women.” According to historian Gail Collins, the single women of the colonies were either “tobacco brides”, indentured servants who were raped and often forced into marriage, or labeled witches and spinsters. Married colonial women achieved the highest status and authority when contributing to the progress of the nation by working in the fields, growing crops, and harvesting food; black couples were indentured servants who once they gained their freedom, owned businesses and shops. At the time, black women did not have the same constraints as white women. She contends, “Virtually all the colonial women wanted to marry, but when they did, they were automatically stripped of their legal rights. A wife’s possessions became her husband’s, and she was unable to do any business on her own, sue, borrow money, or sign contracts. A married women was virtually powerless…His character determined how far she could rise in life.” Collins is describing colonial America; however, presently, in 2017, women—whether single or married– many countries around the world remain powerless, consigned to relying on the males in their family to determine who and what she becomes.
By the 1800s, white women and homemakers were creating reform movements and petitioning for equality; black women were now domestic and sexual property of slave owners. In 1848, abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave her Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions at the Seneca Falls Women’s Convention she organized. Suffragette Susan B. Anthony pronounced, “Woman has been the great unpaid laborer of the world, and although within the last two decades a vast number of new employments have been opened to her, statistics prove that in the great majority of these, she is not paid according to the value of the work done, but according to sex.” The late 19th century brings the right to vote to the women of New Zealand; however, for the public sphere to hear the voice of women, it will first arrive in the form of protest from around the world.
The 20th century generates the fight for suffrage via women like Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in Britain. Margaret Sanger battles Comstock Laws, making birth control available for women desperate to end the circular nature of “barefoot and pregnant”. The rise of labor needs introduces women to factory work. Yet with wars end, women lost their jobs by being “expressly fired”, replaced by men, and reduced to the ranks to domesticity. In 1963, the Civil Right Act passed, the Commission on the Status of Women is established and the Equal Pay Act, which bars unequal pay for the same or similar work completed by men or women, within the same organization, becomes federal law. Betty Friedan in her book, The Feminine Mystique, exposes the American ideal as a myth, stating
“Over and over women heard voice of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children and handle their toilet training… They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights—the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for. All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.”
Enter the second wave of feminism. Ortner argues that ‘female is to nature as male is to culture’ is a code of practice derived to perpetuate inequality. Most distressing is that global humanity bought into this lie and label anyone willing to stand against it, deviant. Herein lies the disdain for the term “feminist”.
The characterization of feminists as an ambitious, aggressive, bossy, b*%$#y, bra-burning woman who hates all men reveals the failed understanding of a women who stand up for themselves and the rights of other women as a means of gender equality. The fight for feminists is political because the political is personal, and the personal, political as Leymah Gbowee believes. Though progress has been made, there are significant strides yet to be made on behalf of women, politically, socially, and economically; until the fullness of women’s rights are human rights is fully accepted, implemented, and recognized.
First, women need positions of governmental leadership. The public sphere has made room for female representation by respecting the human right to participate in country elections–Saudi Arabia was last in 2015—but the issues facing women are not accurately addressed. Of the 192 nations on earth, women represented 59 in the past 50 years. The feminine voice has representation on some local levels of government within the US; however, on the national level, women possess less than 20% of the seats. Conversely, Rwandan women account for 64% of parliamentary seats as of 2013. Rwanda, known for the 1994 genocide, “has the most women’s participation globally.” Additionally, www.heforshe.org ranks Rwanda as the highest commitment leader, based upon population, for gender equality.
Second, “boys will be boys” is not an acceptable stance to take regarding misogyny and sexism. The cliché permits the turn of a blind eye where gender-based violence (GBV)–sexual harassment, bullying, stalking, assault, etc.–are concerned. Whether UN peacekeepers or college students, the combination of these actions, and a lackadaisical response from citizens and law enforcement, creates a culture where violence against women is not considered taboo. Brock Turner caught in the act and convicted of sexual assault, and released within three months of his six-month sentence. Survivors of sexual assault, regardless of gender, endure treatment as guilty of contributing to their assault: ‘what were you wearing’ or ‘why did you walk alone’, more often than the perpetrator is innocent of committing assault; therefore, most go unreported. Jill Flipovic presents rape and sexual assault as “both a crime and tool for social control.” She believes sexual assault is the result of a systemic problem of misogynistic behavior, rooted in the debasement of women by men and accepted by the by-standing status quo.
Rape and sexual assault will continue as a weapon and means of control until perceptions about sexism and misogyny change, and the creation and implementation of laws protect the survivors rather than the attacker. In Malawi, the government plans to increase the number of reported GBV by “setting up a mechanism… [that] will strengthen the 300-community based victim support units and build their capacity to handle cases in coordination with law enforcers and judiciary.” Male heads of state, university presidents, and business leadership possess a unique opportunity of deconstructing structural violence and reconstructing institutional, gender equal framework by employing IMPACT 10x10x10 top-down engagement strategy.
Third, look for the glass ceiling to be broken through the removal of economic and labor barriers. Tennis leads the way in pay equality due to the persistent advocacy of Billie Jean King and Venus Williams. American Bessie Coleman was the first black female pilot; two weeks ago, First Officer Dawn Cook and Captain Stephanie Johnson made history as the first black pilots to command the cockpit at the same time. In addition, Soudaphone and Phinanong of Laos, made aviation history as the first female pilots.
Nathaniel Parish Flannery writes, “one in 4,000” of the world’s largest companies have a seat for women on their boards. Prime Minister of Iceland Bjani Benediktsson stated, “When it is no longer news to have women in leading position, then—and only then—will we have gender parity.” According to the glass-ceiling index, Iceland is the best nation in the world to work, leading the way in gender equality. Over the course of five years, Scandinavian countries have positioned in the top five, whereas the United States ranked 20th, seven below the average. On Tuesday, the fearless girl representing gender inequality and pay disparity became an addition to the bull on Wall Street.
For more nearly 400 years, the persistence of women has pushed back the bounds of patriarchy, which interrupted our growth, forced us to take a backseat on policy and agenda issues regarding our personhood, seeking our demure silence and acceptance. Today, in 2017, given the persistent history, current global political climate, and subsequent rise of global solidarity, the collective SHE has heard the warnings, ignored the explanations, and raised a resistance.
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